The problematic allegation of odor of marijuana has, once again, been endorsed by our Courts as a valid basis for a warrantless automobile search. In State v. Pena-Flores, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that a valid traffic stop can properly mushroom into a full search where there is an odor of marijuana in the vehicle compartment.
Pena-Flores was stopped by Cranford police for a motor vehicle infraction. As the officer approached the vehicle, he was unable to see into the car because of tinted windows. Nonetheless, there was allegedly a strong odor of marijuana when he asked the driver for credentials. The driver and his passenger were thereafter removed from the car and an ensuing search revealed drugs and a gun. The Supreme Court found the search by the Cranford police officer valid based on the fact that there was probable cause to believe that the vehicle contained marijuana by virtue of the smell of pot.
The imfamous “odor” or “smell” of weed rationale is obviously alive and futile. I do not know why, however, the Court does not just pronounce a policy to be followed whenever there is a smell of weed from a car. Why not simply arrest the occupants for consumption and get a warrant? The reason for this is quite simple, that would subject police to scrutiny whenever they use smell of marijuana as their basis to search a vehicle. There surely has to be some common ground to establish a balance here and good lawyering will continue to be the only way for achieving this goal until such time as the Court takes a different view of this issue.